4. Further Rise of the Revolution. All-Russian
Political Strike of October 1905. Retreat of Tsardom. The Tsar's
Manifesto. Rise of the Soviets of Workers' Deputies
By the autumn of 1905 the revolutionary movement had swept the whole
country and gained tremendous momentum.
On September 19 a printers' strike broke out in Moscow. It spread to
St. Petersburg and a number of other cities. In Moscow itself the
printers' strike was supported by the workers in other industries and
developed into a general political strike.
In the beginning of October a strike started on the Moscow-Kazan
Railway. Within two days it was joined by all the railwaymen of the
Moscow railway junction and soon all the railways of the country were in
the grip of the strike. The postal and telegraph services came to a
standstill. In various cities of Russia the workers gathered at huge
meetings and decided to down tools. The strike spread to factory after
factory, mill after mill, city after city, and region after region. The
workers were joined by the minor employees, students and intellectuals –
lawyers, engineers and doctors.
The October political strike became an all-Russian strike which
embraced nearly the whole country, including the most remote districts,
and nearly all the workers, including the most backward strata. About
one million industrial workers alone took part in the general political
strike, not counting the large number of railwaymen, postal and
telegraph employees and others. The whole life of the country came to a
standstill. The government was paralysed.
The working class headed the struggle of the masses against the
The Bolshevik slogan of a mass political strike had borne fruit. The
October general strike revealed the power and might of the proletarian
movement and compelled the mortally frightened tsar to issue his
Manifesto of October 17, 1905. This Manifesto promised the people "the
unshakable foundations of civil liberty: real inviolability of person,
and freedom of conscience, speech, assembly and association." It
promised to convene a legislative Duma and to extend the franchise to
all classes of the population.
Thus, Bulygin's deliberative Duma was swept away by the tide of
revolution. The Bolshevik tactics of boycotting the Bulygin Duma proved
to have been right.
Nevertheless, the Manifesto of October 17 was a fraud on the people,
a trick of the tsar to gain some sort of respite in which to lull the
credulous and to win time to rally his forces and then to strike at the
revolution. In words the tsarist government promised liberty, but
actually it granted nothing substantial. So far, promises were all that
the workers and peasants had received from the government. Instead of
the broad political amnesty which was expected, on October 21 amnesty
was granted to only a small section of political prisoners. At the same
time, with the object of dividing the forces of the people, the
government engineered a number of sanguinary Jewish pogroms, in which
many thousands of people perished; and in order to crush the revolution
it created police-controlled gangster organizations known as the League
of the Russian People and the League of Michael the Archangel. These
organizations, in which a prominent part was played by reactionary
landlords, merchants, priests, and semi-criminal elements of the
vagabond type, were christened by the people "Black-Hundreds." The
Black-Hundreds, with the support of the police, openly manhandled and
murdered politically advanced workers, revolutionary intellectuals and
students, burned down meeting places and fired upon assemblies of
citizens. These so far were the only results of the tsar's Manifesto.
There was a popular song at the time which ran :
"The tsar caught fright, issued a Manifesto:
Liberty for the dead, for the living – arrest."
The Bolsheviks explained to the masses that the Manifesto of October
17 was a trap. They branded the conduct of the government after the
promulgation of the Manifesto as provocative. The Bolsheviks called the
workers to arms, to prepare for armed uprising.
The workers set about forming fighting squads with greater energy
than ever. It became clear to them that the first victory of October 17,
wrested by the general political strike, demanded of them further
efforts, the continuation of the struggle for the overthrow of tsardom.
Lenin regarded the Manifesto of October 17 as an expression of a
certain temporary equilibrium of forces: the proletariat and the
peasantry, having wrung the Manifesto from the tsar, were still not
strong enough to overthrow tsardom, whereas tsardom was no longer
able to rule by the old methods alone and had been compelled to
give a paper promise of "civil liberties" and a "legislative" Duma.
In those stormy days of the October political strike, in the fire of
the struggle against tsardom, the revolutionary creative initiative of
the working-class masses forged a new and powerful weapon – the Soviets
of Workers' Deputies.
The Soviets of Workers' Deputies – which were assemblies of delegates
from all mills and factories – represented a type of mass political
organization of the working class which the world had never seen before.
The Soviets that first arose in 1905 were the prototype of the
Soviet power which the proletariat, led by the Bolshevik Party, set up
in 1917. The Soviets were a new revolutionary form of the creative
initiative of the people. They were set up exclusively by the
revolutionary sections of the population, in defiance of all laws and
prescripts of tsar-dom. They were a manifestation of the independent
action of the people who were rising to fight tsardom.
The Bolsheviks regarded the Soviets as the embryo of revolutionary
power. They maintained that the strength and significance of the Soviets
would depend solely on the strength and success of the uprising.
The Mensheviks regarded the Soviets neither as embryonic organs of
revolutionary power nor as organs of uprising. They looked upon the
Soviets as organs of local self-government, in the nature of
democratized municipal government bodies.
In St. Petersburg, elections to the Soviet of Workers' Deputies took
place in all the mills and factories on October 13 (26, New Style) 1905.
The first meeting of the Soviet was held that night. Moscow followed St.
Petersburg in forming a Soviet of Workers' Deputies.
The St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies, being the Soviet of
the most important industrial and revolutionary centre of Russia, the
capital of the tsarist empire, ought to have played a decisive role in
the Revolution of 1905. However, it did not perform its task, owing to
its bad, Menshevik leadership. As we know, Lenin had not yet arrived in
St. Petersburg; he was still abroad. The Mensheviks took advantage of
Lenin's absence to make their way into the St. Petersburg Soviet and to
seize hold of its leadership. It was not surprising under such
circumstances that the Mensheviks Khrustalev, Trotsky, Parvus and others
managed to turn the St. Petersburg Soviet against the policy of an
uprising. Instead of bringing the soldiers into close contact with the
Soviet and linking them up with the common struggle, they demanded that
the soldiers be withdrawn from St. Petersburg. The Soviet, instead of
arming the workers and preparing them for an uprising, just marked time
and was against preparations for an uprising.
Altogether different was the role played in the revolution by the
Moscow Soviet of Workers' Deputies. From the very first the Moscow
Soviet pursued a thoroughly revolutionary policy. The leadership of the
Moscow Soviet was in the hands of the Bolsheviks. Thanks to them, side
by side with the Soviet of Workers' Deputies, there arose in Moscow a
Soviet of Soldiers' Deputies. The Moscow Soviet became an organ of armed
In the period, October to December 1905, Soviets of Workers' Deputies
were set up in a number of large towns and in nearly all the
working-class centres. Attempts were made to organize Soviets of
Soldiers' and Sailors' Deputies and to unite them with the Soviets of
Workers' Deputies. In some localities Soviets of Workers' and Peasants'
Deputies were formed.
The influence of the Soviets was tremendous. In spite of the fact
that they often arose spontaneously, lacked definite structure and were
loosely organized, they acted as a governmental power. Without legal
authority, they introduced freedom of the press and an 8-hour working
day. They called upon the people not to pay taxes to the tsarist
government. In some cases they confiscated government funds and used
them for the needs of the revolution.